Inna Sovsun, member of the Parliament of Ukraine and former first deputy minister of education and science, came to UC Berkeley on Thursday to discuss the state of higher education in Ukraine with John Douglass, a senior research fellow at the Center for Studies in Higher Education.
Sovsun detailed the damage by Russian forces on educational institutions since the start of the invasion in February. She noted that 2,739 places of learning have been damaged, 333 of which are completely destroyed.
As a result, many universities in occupied territories have been relocated, with a majority having reopened, according to Sovsun.
“People ask me, ‘Do you study?’ (and) ‘Is there studying going on?’ As a matter of fact, there is. The majority of universities reopened for online classes by the end of March,” Sovsun said during the event. “It felt strange, but in a way, I could see the logic behind that because people needed some feeling of normality.”
Despite this, Sovsun noted an issue of “brain drain” because of many professors and students either leaving the country or devoting their efforts to the war.
Sovsun said during the event many female professors have left the country, while many men have enlisted as they are not allowed to leave. She added that it’s a complex issue from the “feminist perspective.”
There is also the question of professors who remained in occupied territories and possibly cooperated with Russian forces, according to Sovsun. During the event, she said it is something that may be brought to light if Russians retreat from Kherson.
Sovsun noted “brain drain” applies to students as well. She noted issues regarding students now studying outside of Ukraine with no indication of whether they will return, during the meeting. Sovsun added that the European Union is helping Ukrainian refugees with their education, but not helping those who remain.
To remedy this, Sovsun suggested more dual degree programs between Ukrainian universities and international ones be introduced.
Sovsun noted that it would also be helpful to establish discussion platforms and conferences where Ukrainians and Americans can exchange ideas and collaboratively solve problems such as veteran reintegration.
On the topic of cooperation between Russian and Ukrainian academic institutions, Sovsun said she is not open to that possibility at the moment.
She added that many do not realize the extent to which some in Russia have been influenced by a “virus of hatred,” adding that she has read many violent social media comments.
“There should be some kind of collective responsibility, no matter how wrong it can sound,” Sovsun said during the event. “We are bearing collective responsibility for this. My son goes to the bomb shelter three times a day. Did he do something to deserve this?”
Despite its negative effects, the war could allow universities to rebuild and restructure, according to Sovsun.
Sovsun added that she is “rather critical” of Ukraine’s higher education system, with its alleged issues of corruption and relics of Soviet influence.
“As terrible as this war is, there can actually be an opening to promote more reforms inside Ukrainian universities,” Sovsun said during the meeting. “I’m trying to see some positive opportunities here in terms of institutions actually understanding what their mission is.”